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Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport headed for quicker takeoffs

If you fly out of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport, you probably don’t notice the route your jet or plane takes to runway 4-22.

Runway 4-22 stretches for 7,501 feet but aside from the aviation gadgets and lights on its edges, it’s pretty much just a paved road.

From way up in the air, observant travelers may notice a difference. At the runway’s northern end, the taxiway that planes roll on from the terminal stretches all the way to runway’s end. At the southern end, it doesn’t.

On the southern end, jets turn left off the taxiway, right onto the runway, then roll about a thousand feet more to the end.

Airport engineering director Stephen Mykulyn says the Federal Aviation Administration considers that a potential safety issue.

“They actually have to execute a procedure that they taxi on the runway, go to the end of the runway, and then do 180-degree turn,” Mykulyn said. “It's called the back taxi … So the longer an aircraft is on the runway itself, and in this case, back taxiing, the more potential there is for there to be an incursion or an incident.”

An incident could mean a collision with another plane. The airport isn’t that busy now, but someday airport officials are planning for the days it might be. Federal officials consider a taxiway like this one a “substandard condition.”

The airport extended the northern taxiway a few years ago.

At its latest meeting, the airport board awarded a $6,691,500 contract to Leeward Construction of Honesdale to build the southern extension.

The taxiway construction will seem like the easy part.

This whole project started in 2018 with an environment impact study.

The study found the extension will have no significant impact.

After that, the airport had to relocate the road to the traffic control tower so trucks could use the old tower access road to haul in earth.

The project required earth to raise the level of the land where the taxiway extension will go to the runway’s level.

“It was considerably lower in that area,” Mykulyn said.

That wasn’t all. The airplane guidance system and lighting were on the side where the taxiway extension will go.

“That guidance system needed to be moved to the other side of the fill or other side of the airport,” he said.

That still wasn’t all.

“The last project that was completed was the embankment. So we blasted material from the opposite side of the field adjacent to the turnpike. And we took that material and we brought that material to this side of the field and constructed the embankment for the taxiway extension,” Mykulyn said.

That’s why this taxiway extension will eventually cost a combined $24.5 million, or $9 million more than the other one.

Airport officials hope to have final Federal Aviation Administration clearance by the fall with construction starting next spring.

Within six months after that, assuming the weather cooperates, the taxiing to takeoff will go a whole lot more smoothly.

Borys joins WVIA News from The Scranton Times-Tribune, where he served as an investigative reporter and covered a wide range of political stories. His work has been recognized with numerous national and state journalism awards from the Inland Press Association, Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors, Society of Professional Journalists and Pennsylvania Newsmedia Association.

You can email Borys at boryskrawczeniuk@wvia.org